Here’s a very interesting letter from Norma Shearer from 1972 to my grandmother, Mitzi Cummings Fielding, which is essentially the most affectionate ‘No’ you’re ever going to read. Reading between the lines, it appears my grandmother had contacted Norma requesting an interview in relation to Mitzi’s book about her uncle, Louis B. Mayer.
As a star in her own right, and the wife (and later widow) of M-G-M exec Irving Thalberg, Shearer’s stories and insights would have been essential to any book about that era.
However, as Norma Shearer replies, she was actually writing her own book:
“I, too, am in the midst of writing a book concerning my life and career and all the extraordinary people with whom I have been associated or had the privilege of knowing.
So not wishing to be repetitious I took the time, since speaking to you, to write some new material on L.B. But I realize in reviewing it that anything that is worthy of your book is worthy of mine…
Therefore, I know you will understand why I wish to save my thoughts and impressions … for my own autobiography having already written four hundred and fifty pages.”
What is also interesting is that she mentions deferring for the same reasons to Bob Thomas, the legendary columnist and biographer, when he was writing Thalberg: Life and Legend in 1969.
I can imagine how disappointed Mitzi would have been (and Bob Thomas), although if there is one thing I knew about her, she was a remarkably upbeat person and kept plugging on. My grandmother had the work ethic of a seasoned writer, which was something I always admired about her.
As much as the letter is a rejection, and certainly she and Mitzi would’ve had known each other since the 1920s, Norma Shearer sure knew how to start with a positive:
“I was delighted to know, when you telephoned me the other day, that you were writing a book about your uncle, Louis B. Mayer, with whom I had such a long and happy association at Metro Goldwyn Mayer.”
So, there was THAT.
Amazingly, Norma Shearer’s manuscript, with a working title, My Love Affair with Life and contained in bits and pieces across sixteen envelopes, was sold at auction by Bonhams in 2011 for $6,700. I would love to know who bought it. If you know, please share with me privately via my official Facebook page.
Here’s an excerpt, perhaps written thanks to Mitzi, that speaks a straight-out truth:
“Mr. Mayer and Mr. Thalberg were much too busy trying to run the studio and make good pictures to indulge in selfish bickerings, which some have chosen to dramatize.”
There are quite a few people who should definitely read the above paragraph and take note…
Honestly, though, whether they do or they don’t, I’m quite happy to let Norma Shearer’s sentiments be my guide: what could be better than a LOVE AFFAIR WITH LIFE?!
Norma Shearer died at age 80, just 11 years after that letter, on June 12th, 1983 in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, a world away from Montreal, Quebec, the city of her birth.